Friday, March 20, 2009

Slow on the uptake…
So for the past two years, I have been working with the CCM Women’s Society to plan, organize and carry out a sewing project. As we’ve talked they’ve mentioned the things that they want to learn and always mention that they want to “aprender cortar” (to learn to cut). I always thought it was interesting that middle aged women didn’t know how to use scissors but figured that it was just part of the poverty of Moz that they didn’t go to kindergarten where they cut out shapes.

Turns out, I’m slow on the uptake. This week, I went to their sewing project and there met a woman who came for the first time. She too mentioned that she wanted to learn how to cut but also said she already knows how to sew things like skirts, blouses, and dresses. I asked her, “How is it that you know how to sew but don’t know how to cut?” All the women twittered at my naiveté. Learning how to cut actually means, learning how to design – taking something one’s seen on the street or in one’s mind and figuring out how to make it from nothing. I told her that’s a gift that people have, not something that is exactly teachable. It involves thinking, measuring and experimenting. She said, “That’s what I want to learn!” and looked at me as if I was going to be the one who teaches her how to do that. (I don’t have that gifting for clothing).

Some things are never clear even though you understand the words spoken. Nothing like learning the meaning of “aprender cortar” (to learn to cut) two years after learning the individual words.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Women and Money

As I’ve written about before, the United Church of Christ Women’s Society Savings Group Project is taking off. We approved their budget for 2009-2010 to visit the existing groups and to do several seminars. Yesterday, as I talked with Dona Cristina to plan to visit one of the groups while we have a learning tour here in May, she mentioned that I had forgotten to give them certificates for their seminars. I told her that I would print them off and deliver them today.

So today, I walked down two flights of stairs from the MCC office to the UCC church office to drop off the certificates. I expected to just drop them off and be on my way, but her husband, the President of the denomination, invited me into his office and we sat and chatted for a while.

It was a pleasant surprise to talk with him. Feeling a bit awkward, I initiated conversation with, “So, this project is a success.” He then began talking about how amazing this project is for the women involved and the church itself. He told me how savings groups can elevate women, who are traditionally not held in high esteem in Mozambique. That by being in a savings group and learning to save, women are being empowered in ways that they never have. He recounted a story about a group that his wife experienced while visiting a group. The group is comprised of mostly women, but when Dona Cristina arrived, the whole leadership committee was men. She advised the group that though men are welcome to be a part of savings groups, the groups are intended for the women and the leadership needs to be comprised of all women. So on that day, the leadership committee changed from all men to women.

Sr. President (as he is called here) continued to tell me of the vision for the groups. They hope that this year they can nurture the groups and next year start with some community development components within the group, specifically starting to talk with the groups about domestic violence and child trafficking. Both are major problems here. They also want to expand the groups to other denominations because they are seeing how it is making such a positive impact in the lives of women and their communities.

One of the churches close to Beira meets on Sunday afternoons. The group has members from the UCC church as well as people from the community. As a result of the group, the once poorly attended church is now so full that people have to arrive early in order to get a seat for worship! They are seeing potential for evangelism within the realm of these groups and how they can help people learn about so many different things.

The most amazing part to me of our conversation was when he started praising women. Women in Mozambican society are rarely praised. Usually they are just there, present, but not involved or asked to be involved. I’ve been in conversations with men who readily admit they do not trust their wives with money (when Joél and I tell them I manage the money they just give us this look like, “Well you’re foreigners, you’re supposed to be strange.”). Sr. President and I talked about this. He said that one of the reasons these groups are going so well is because women are good financial managers. He also said that people need to listen to women because they have good ideas. He told me several times that 60-70% of the stuff he does at the church are ideas from his wife. He said, “God could have given me another woman, but he gave me her and I’m really glad.” I asked him if he’s told her that before and he said, “Yeah, last month.”

Perhaps, he was just telling me, the Community and Women’s Development Worker, what I wanted to hear, but I could tell by the enthusiasm in his voice it’s what he thinks. It’s good to hear. Especially from a head of a large denomination.
*Photo: From the training session we held in August for savings groups.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Settling in

We have completed our move and are settling into our house here. It is lusciously quiet. Over the past week, we’ve planted a number of flowers, bushes and trees in our yard. Joél putters around the yard as much as he can: planting, arranging, and making pathways. We’ve enjoyed being able to run errands that we would normally have scheduled a day to come to Chimoio and be home in time for lunch. The other evening we walked to friends’ house for supper.

Now the challenge is to find friends. We live close to a number of people from our Bible study. The other day, we discovered that our next door neighbor is one of the women in the CCM Women’s group. It’s nice to know we have good neighbors. We continue to pray that we will find places to be in relationship with Mozambicans. Perhaps church.

Yesterday we visited the Catholic Church. I have never seen a Catholic church so full. We arrived at 8:45, thinking it would begin at 9 AM, but the first service was still going and people were standing outside. We returned at 9:30 for the 10:00 service and the sanctuary was half full. A few minutes later, a nun stood up and talked with the people present about Lent, what it is, how it is 40 days of preparation for Easter, how it is a time of sacrifice and the role of fasting during Lent. The church continued to fill to the point that Joél whispered to me, “It’s like we’re in a chapa!” Suddenly the service began and people started singing. We didn’t recognize the songs but most people in the congregation knew them. It’s amazing to me every time I visit a Catholic church how people know all the liturgies and creeds to be able to repeat them along with the worship leaders. I also wonder if they think about what they say as they recite them together. There are some powerful truths in the creeds. The service ended close to 11:30 and we walked home.

I don’t remember the last time we were at home and got home from church at 12:00. The Mennonite church in Gondola usually didn’t start until 11 or 11:30 because that was when people showed up. It felt miraculous to have a whole Sunday afternoon to do Sunday afternoon things—nap, read, take a walk.

And so we begin our to settle in.
Starting over in Chimoio

A few months ago, a friend lent me Sheila Cassidy’s book Good Friday People. The book is stories of people who suffered because of their faith. It showed me that though, my life here in Mozambique has more often than not, been hard, that God is still working and all is not for naught. It showed me how people of faith, though we often waiver in our confidence and feel like life is bleak, still end up seeing God shining through the darkness. That God is working through us and in us to accomplish his will of alleviating oppression and pain, of bringing reconciliation to people, of rebuilding ancient walls.

Throughout the book, she quoted a poem that exemplifies the struggle that we have with our calling, with our faith in God and how we keep trudging on. When I read the poem in its entirety, it struck me how it shows the struggles and triumphs of life, particularly for those of us who because of our faith live overseas. I initially had scribbled one of the stanzas in my journal, because it so embodied Joél’s and my experience here in Mozambique.

We did not want it easy God
But we did not contemplate
That it would be quite this hard
This long, this lonely.

Like the author writes, we expected it to be hard, but not so hard and so lonely,. I think what strikes me the most about the poem is how its theme is that of Philippians 3: 13-14 “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Now as we “start over”, living in Chimoio, our prayer continues to invite God to work in and through us, to give us strength for the journey, for courage to step out of our comfort zones, to find places for new relationships (particularly with Mozambicans), and to learn how to see God in new ways. We feel hope as we settle into living in the city. Hope that we will continue to serve God and how he is leading, to be healthy and to find good relationships.

Starting Over, Fighting Back
And so we must begin to live again,
We of the damaged bodies
And assaulted minds.
Starting from scratch with the ruble of our lives
And picking up the dust
Of dreams once dreamt.

And we standing there, naked in our vulnerability,
Proud of starting over, fighting back,
But full of weak humility
At the awesomeness of the task.

We, without a future,
Safe, defined, delivered
Now salute you God.
Knowing that nothing is safe,
Secure, inviolable here.
Except you,
And even that eludes our minds at times.
And we hate you
As we love you,
And our anger is strong
As our pain
Our grief is deep as oceans
And our need as great as mountains.

So we take our first few steps forward
Into the abyss of the future,
We would pray for
Courage to go places for the first time
And just be there.
Courage to become what we have
Not been before
And accept it,
And bravery to look deep
Within our souls to find
New ways.

We did not want it easy God
But we did not contemplate
That it would be quite this hard
This long, this lonely.

So, if we are to be turned inside out,
And upside down,
With even our pockets shaken,
Just to check what’s rattling
And left behind,
We pray that you will keep faith with us.
And we with you,
Holding our hands as we weep,
Giving us strength to continue,
And showing us beacons
Along the way
To becoming new.

We are not fighting you, God,
Even if it feels like it,
But we need your help and company,
As we struggle on.
Fighting back
And starting over.

Anna McKenzie

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


It’s been a while since we updated our blog and have let people know what’s happening in our lives. There have been a few (major) advancements…

We have decided to extend our term for one more year. So instead of coming back to the States in October of this year, we will be here until October 2010. We feel like this is where God is leading us as we get more into our work. We are enjoying our work here, Joél being the liaison between our partners, MCC Moz and CFGB and me with my various projects of working with SALT, learning tours, savings groups and other CCM activities. By extending we gain more experience because we are realizing we really like this type of work. Extending allows us another year to improve our Portuguese. J

We are moving to Chimoio. As our work with CCM and other partners increase, we have been traveling to Chimoio with more frequency. Also, by being in Chimoio, as the primary MCC contact persons to the Mennonite church, we are better able to work with the two largest congregations without being mixed up in the local politics associated with attending one of the congregations. We are looking forward to just being able to go to a church to worship without having the expectations of being someone’s missionary on us. Chimoio is the provincial capital of Manica and we will be able to take walks without being so noticed because people are more accustomed to foreigners and it’s a city.

We are expecting a baby. The baby is due in late June. So far I have felt pretty good, except for minor nausea and increased headaches during the first trimester. We are planning to go to South Africa for the birth. I’ll leave for Johannesburg in mid-May, Joél will come at the beginning of June. In case you were wondering, we are not going to find out if it is a boy or a girl. It’s hard to know how life will change with a child. In some ways I anticipate that it will help us in making relationships with people because very few couples are childless. Our parents are excited though I’m sure that they wish we’d be closer. It’s the first grandchild on both sides.